The 50 best albums from 2011
From Mastodon and Machine Head to Foo Fighters and Frank Turner, we rank the greatest albums from the year 2011…
Ahhhh, Mr. Brendon Urie. Now, it’s hard to write about how great the Panic! At The Disco frontman is without sounding like a dribbling sycophant, but I’ll give it a go…
He first came to my attention via MySpace. My friend Mike sent me a link to Panic!’s page, with “I think you’ll like this…”. I clicked through each demo – the same ones that piqued Fall Out Boy Pete Wentz’ interest and, well, you know the rest – listening to each one, eyes wide in wonderment. I’d never heard anything quite like it.
Even on those imperfect recordings you could tell the band were special. It was Brendon’s voice that drew me in first, just the sheer range of it. Next were the electronics… pop-punk meets dance music? Into it. The thing that really sold me, though, was the sassiness of the songs. Even though the sound quality was akin to tin cans and string, Panic! just sounded cool and different. And of course it helped that the songs were catchy af.
I made Time To Dance my Myspace profile track, chucked the band straight in my Top 8 and waited patiently for a debut record. When A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out finally arrived on September 27, 2005, weighing 0lbs and 2.5oz, it was perfection. I rushed to Virgin Megastore and cradled it like an actual child. The cover art was so weird and out-there – who were these guys? And what did it all mean? – and the songs I’d rinsed to death on Myspace had been re-recorded with full production, allowing me to appreciate them from scratch all over again. And, of course, there were new tracks, each as interesting and quirky as the last. I remember staying at my friend Joe’s uni halls not long after buying it. We fell asleep listening to the album on repeat, and woke up with it still playing. We just couldn’t get enough.
To this day A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out remains one of the best debut albums ever written. A favourite of anyone who was living their best life in the mid-2000s, drinking Strongbow and black, and rocking an emo fringe and/or black eyeliner. It’s one of those albums you can whack on the car stereo during a road trip and it’s guaranteed to keep everyone happy.
But, of course, that debut was just the beginning, and Brendon’s been making incredible music ever since. 2008’s Pretty. Odd. wasn’t really for me (although Nine In The Afternoon and Northern Downpour remain 'tunes'), but I’ve adored everything else he’s done. The class and elegance of 2011’s Vices & Virtues perhaps makes it my all-time favourite. I just love its wistful nature. Plus, it features two of my favourite Panic! songs ever: The Calendar and Memories (which, fact fans, is Brendon’s least favourite song of all time, meaning I’ll never get to see it live. Cue tiny violins…). 2013’s Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! also means a lot to me, since it was released the week before I went on a soul-searching trip to Australia – now it reminds me of strolling Sydney streets and getting burnt in the still-blistering Spring sun. It’s the perfect chill-out album, whilst also being warm and sultry, due to the throwback ’80s vibes, something not many bands in Panic!’s genre had done at the time.
And that’s the thing about Brendon’s music: like a chameleon with a personal tailor, he literally transforms himself with every album. It never gets old or boring, and between records we’re left wondering what the hell he’s gonna do next. Something I spent the best part of last year thinking about as the world collectively tapped its foot, waiting for a follow-up to the showy and colourful, 5K-rated Death Of A Bachelor.
“Would he ever be able to top that?” we wondered. Course he fuckin’ would! When Say Amen (Saturday Night) dropped – along with the amazing Dexter-meets-James Bond video – we all knew instantly that BRENDON WAS BACK, BITCHES! And perhaps not fully reinvented this time, more just turned up several notches on the fabulosity dial. A dial he never takes his fingers off.
So we’ve confirmed Brendon’s great at making music, and has more musical talent in his perfectly-coiffed hair than the rest of us have in general. The only remaining original member of Panic!, the band is his baby now, and he tinkers away in his home studio day and night, cooking up magic and laying down every instrument himself. But there’s so much more to him than that… He’s a package so full that UPS, Amazon Prime and Royal Mail combined would struggle to deliver it.
First, there’s that voice. Criticofmusic.com describes his vocal type as: lyrical tenor (4 octaves) and his vocal range as: D2 – C5 – C6 [C7]. Which in layman’s terms means: next fucking level. He’s also got the moves… when he’s not slinking around the stage shaking his hips in those raunchy leather trousers, he’s backflipping off the drum riser. May we remind you this man is 32? And must be washing down his morning bagel with the blood of a virgin.
Due to said backflips, and much more, his live show is nothing short of a thrill. Getting to watch Panic! headline Slam Dunk three nights running in 2016 was one of my favourite weekends, uh, ever, and it more than proved them as festival headliners. A feat they’ll repeat when Reading & Leeds rolls around this August. Just imagine Say Amen (Saturday Night) playing out across Leeds’ Braham Park on actual Saturday night… it’s going to be ridiculous.
Then there’s the human being behind the showman – plain old Brendon Boyd, son of Grace and Boyd Urie, two people whom appear to have reeeeeally good genes. See, we’d be remiss not to mention, even in vague passing, that Brendon is not unappealing on the eye. If not convinced of this please see Charli XCX’s video for Boys. 0:19 minutes in – you’re welcome.
Not content with making the rest of us feel like we’re a) hideous and b) have achieved nothing in our lives in comparison, Brendon is also hilarious. You’ve seen the Vines, and the Positive Hardcore Thursdays. And you’ve heard his onstage bants. But to interview him is a joy; he’s so much fun. Super-sarcastic, and never takes anything too seriously. One time we did a phone interview and he told me he was naked in bed. Which probably wasn’t even a joke, on reflection, since he really loves to be naked (see: Girls/Girls/Boys video).
As if him being talented, good-looking, fun and funny wasn’t enough to make you sick, he’s also a really nice guy (BARF!). He’s extremely polite, always happy to speak to you, and just kind – at that aforementioned Slam Dunk he gave the K! team a whole tray of ciders from his rider, and let me tell you, we enjoyed the Panic! set extra amounts that night. People as charismatic, confident and self-assured as Brendon often come off cocky and intolerable, but not him because he’s so self-depreciating with it. It’s like he doesn’t even realise how great he is. Or he totally does… and he’s just being wonderfully modest about it. Either way, it’s charming.
While lovely, Brendon’s not to be fucked with, and will call something out if he doesn’t agree with it, like on the many occasions he’s been outspoken about LGBT rights.
When Westboro Baptist Church protested against the band playing Girls/Girls/Boys at a show – a song about being comfortable with your sexuality – Panic! pledged to donate $20 to the Human Right Campaign for every member of WBC that showed up. Only 13 protestors actually made it, but Brendon donated $1,000 regardless. While after the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, Panic! organised a blood drive for victims before their show a show in Miami.
Really, Brendon is the people’s rockstar. And by that I mean behind closed doors he’s just like us. He binge watches box sets, did badly at school (he talked his teachers into letting him submit songs instead of essay papers), and his anxiety / panic attacks mean he’ll get freaked out if he goes to the supermarket and there are too many people around. This seemingly in-human guy, is totally human. And it makes him even more loveable. Especially because he lets us see that side of him by broadcasting Brendon Urie TV (via Instagram live) often, so we can watch him listening to music… rolling joints… fixing his broken computer mouse… picking his nose… all of it. He just pops up every once in a while to keep us all company. It’s oddly comforting and makes him feel almost, sort of, kinda, like a friend.
At gigs and on Instagram live used to be the only places we could see Brendon, until last summer when he appeared as the lead in Kinky Boots on Broadway. He obviously owned the singing, but impressively, he killed the acting too, and proved himself to be a real triple threat (although if you add all his aforementioned qualities together, he’s more a Centuple threat – that’s the multiple for 100, if you aren't into maths). A huge fan of musicals – and Panic! – I was so close to booking tickets to see the show, but didn’t in the end as it felt creepy going all that way. Instead, I spent every day scouring YouTube for videos people had illegally filmed and uploaded (probably just as creepy, tbf). Every snippet sounded outstanding and made me regret not going.
Finally – and yes, this gush-fest is coming to an end – some other things that sound outstanding are every song Brendon’s ever lent his vocals to in a guest capacity, making them undoubtedly more special than they’d have been without him. My favourites include: The Cab’s One Of Those Nights, Fall Out Boy’s 20 Dollar Nose Bleed (Brendon and Patrick Stump on one song – have you ever heard anything better? Good lord…), Travie McCoy’s Keep On Keeping On, and of course, Every Time I Die’s amazing It Remembers. When talking about the latter, Brendon confessed he’d made his own hardcore side-project for fun – just screamy re-workings of Panic! songs and such – and promised me he’d upload them to a SoundCloud some day, but never did. FINALLY, THE MAN HAS ONE FLAW!
Anyway, there’s no doubting that Brendon Urie is one of the coolest, most talented people to ever walk this Earth, and just like dogs and chocolate cake: we did nothing to deserve him. But he was born to entertain us regardless, and will hopefully continue to do so until he’s too old to pull his leather trousers on.
Thanks for 32 years of bringing the world joy, Brendon! Here’s to 32 more.
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